Hogs bring in ringer to get past 1st round

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson directs his team against Indiana State during the second half Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson directs his team against Indiana State during the second half Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

Gone are the stigmas.

Arkansas can win on the road again, and it not only made it to postseason play, albeit the NIT, it won. That’s something that hadn’t happened since 2008.

Now the Razorbacks watch tonight to see if they go on the road to California for a chance to avenge their first loss of the season or host Utah Valley.

It doesn’t matter. The Razorbacks did more than survive, they advanced by beating Indiana State.

When Arkansas outscored Indiana State 10-0 to open an 18-point lead, which was aided and abetted by two turnovers and three consecutive misses on one possession by the Sycamores, it was becoming even more obvious that the Razorbacks were just that much better than their first-round opponent.

Indiana State tried hard, but it didn’t have the quickness, speed or athleticism to keep up, especially in the second-half relay race when the Hogs began to play like a team that wanted to keep its season alive.

Still, this Arkansas team hasn’t learned how to get an opponent down early and make them yell “Hawgball.” The Sycamores got it inside 10 points, but unlike their past two games the Razorbacks fought back this time and won easily and impressively.

The Razorbacks were almost a one-man show in the first half as Anthlon Bell put the team on his back and carried it, but in the final half it was a team effort.

The first half was mostly ugly, and it was a half that left little doubt why these two teams did not make the Big Dance’s invitation list.

If not for Bell, the Razorbacks would have been in trouble from the get-go. They missed their first seven shots, and after Bell broke the drought he continued to be the only consistent player on Arkansas’ side of the court as he finished with a career-high 28 points.

Bell was 7 of 9 from the field in the first half, including 4 of 6 on three-pointers, and he had six rebounds for a little extra icing.

The rest of the Hogs were a combined 5 of 25 from the field and 0 of 5 on three-pointers.

Thanks to Bell, a sophomore out of Memphis, the Razorbacks had a 37-31 halftime lead. It didn’t hurt that Indiana State struggled inside and out and lacked the quickness on defense to defend the Hogs, who held a 27-20 rebounding edge at the half.

Both teams seemed to be in a hurry as they too often took a shot after one pass, which was definitely not smart on the Sycamores’ part.

Many times it is difficult for teams out of the major conferences, such as Arkansas, to truly get fired up about the NIT, especially in the opening-round games that are played at the same time the NCAA Tournament play in games are taking place.

Arkansas obviously hurt its NCAA Tournament chances with its nonconference schedule, but it was 3-3 against teams in the Big Dance, including two victories over Kentucky and an early victory over Louisiana-Lafayette, which upset Georgia State in the Sun Belt Tournament.

The Hogs lost to Gonzaga, Florida and Tennessee.

They were 6-4 against teams in the NIT, beating Minnesota, Clemson, LSU (they also lost to the Tigers in Baton Rouge), SMU, Georgia and High Point. They lost to California and twice to Missouri.

Indiana State was 0-5 against NCAA Tournament teams, but that included three losses to No. 1 seed Wichita State, which won the Missouri Valley regular season and tournament. The Sycamores also lost 63-62 to Tulsa and 83-66 to Saint Louis.

The Sycamores were 1-1 against Belmont, which won its conference but not the conference tournament.

In other words, both were better than they showed in the opening half, but the second half was whole Hog.